There is one often overlooked perk to being one of the most popular substitute drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s the Wardrobe Effect – and Regan Smith, who will sub for the injured Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford at least the next two weekends, knows all about it.
“I’ve learned I’ve got a hell of a polo shirt collection at this point,” Smith said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I don’t know if there are any crew members in the garage that have been with more teams than I have.”
One of the most likable guys in the Cup garage, Smith is experienced at stepping in for injured, ill or suspended drivers.
He first did it in 2012, when he drove the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for two races while Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from a concussion. He also stepped in for Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen in 2014, for Kurt Busch for three races in 2015, and for Kyle Larson at Martinsville, also in 2015.
He also has driven at times in the Cup Series for Ginn Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc., Furniture Row Racing, Phoenix Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing.
Hence, the packed wardrobe filled with polo shirts bearing the team logos of at least 10 different Cup teams he’s driven for, counting the latest RPM addition.
Smith got the call to replace Almirola last Wednesday, after Almirola suffered a compression back fracture during a wreck in last Saturday night’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway. It didn’t take him long to accept the job offer.
“When they called and said, ‘Hey, can you do this weekend?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. I’d be honored to and I’d love to,’ and that was pretty much it,” Smith said.
Smith drove full time last season in the Cup Series for Tommy Baldwin Racing and also is an experienced XFINITY Series veteran. But this year, he found himself out of a ride and looking for work.
He’s good friends with Almirola and obviously has plenty of experience working with different teams and crew chiefs. So far he’s only signed up to drive the No. 43 in tonight’s Monster Energy Open (6 p.m. ET on FS1) and the Coca-Cola 600 a week from Sunday.
But if he can be one of the drivers to advance out of the Open and into tonight’s Monster Energy All-Star Race, or at least use what he learns in tonight’s Open to pull off a solid finish in the 600, who knows? Almirola will be out 8-12 weeks, so this gig could stretch into several more races for Smith and perhaps serve as an audition for something more with RPM or another team.
But for now, Smith just wants to do well because he has a deep respect for the history of the No. 43 car once driven by Hall of Famer and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty – and also because he feels for Almirola.
“I’m still pretty young,” said Smith, who had been working as a FOX NASCAR television analyst when RPM came calling. “I’m only 33, so I was kind of thinking I would get an opportunity in a Cup car at some point in some capacity.
“I didn’t really know what or how — and when this all kind of shook down I kind of thought about it the other night and I’m like, ‘That’s pretty cool. That’s the King’s car you’re gonna hop into.’ That’s a special car and there’s a lot of history behind that car. I guess because me and Aric are friends I’ve got a little bit more of an emotional investment into this and wanting to do well for him and his team.”